cover image Safely to Earth: The Men and Women Who Brought the Astronauts Home

Safely to Earth: The Men and Women Who Brought the Astronauts Home

Jack Clemons. Univ. Press of Florida, $24.95 (280p) ISBN 978-0-8130-5602-9

Clemons, one of many young Americans in the early 1960s inspired to enter the sciences by President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to go to the moon, shares his experiences, triumphs, and failures in this look back at the early days of space exploration. Clemons, self-described as more of a dreamer and bookworm as a child than the engineer he eventually became, joined TRW Systems Group, a NASA contractor, in the late 1960s. The details Clemons provides are what make the book so memorable, from the “sense of ownership” that every individual working at or for NASA felt toward the moon landing mission, to the “veil of smoke” from cigarettes that then hung in conference rooms. And Clemons reminds readers that somehow these teams launched astronauts into space and onto the moon by modestly paid engineers (Clemons’s initial annual salary was $7,500) using “pencil and paper and a slide rule.” The main story is economically and briskly told, bolstered by a thoughtful, helpful appendix, as well as a collection of direct questions (“Did Apollo 10 Almost Crash into the Moon?”) and frank answers. While the subject may seem like ancient history to younger readers, it should attract those who can recall the emergence of manned Apollo launches and NASA’s “failure is not an option” credo. (Aug.)